A customer checks out the iPhone X at an Apple store right after the phone was released
Photo: Getty

In August, federal agents in Ohio made a suspect unlock his iPhone X using his face, in what may be the first instance of law enforcement using such a tactic.

Forbes reports that a child pornography investigation led the FBI to the home of Grant Michalski, 28, in Columbus, Ohio, where agents searched the house. Forbes obtained a follow-up search warrant (which includes descriptions of sexual abuse) that details that first search. The document states that when the search warrant was executed on August 10th, Michalski was at the residence and “pursuant to authorization provided in the search warrant, was required by law enforcement to place his face in front of an iPhone X that was found on [Michalski]’s person when the search warrant executed.”

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The agents then quickly searched photos and Kik chats on the phone, allegedly finding material and conversations associated with child pornography. They turned on Airplane mode, looked through files manually, and took pictures of what appeared on the screen. Authorities say they also seized a Macbook that contained hundreds of child pornography images and videos.

Michalski was later charged with receiving and possessing child pornography, Forbes reports. But since the FBI did not get Michalski’s passcode, agents could not pull all the relevant data—so agents obtained the aforementioned second search warrant to search the phone again to obtain more information, including app use and deleted material.

The FBI and Department of Justice sparred with Apple in 2016 over whether the tech company should create a backdoor to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino attack. But Apple was essentially off the hook once digital forensics company Grayshift created the GreyKey—a $15,000 black box that can supposedly break iPhone encryption in a matter of hours or days— and Cellebrite released a similar tool.

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This second search warrant suggests that such tools have trickled into state law enforcement agencies. The court document, written by FBI Child Exploitation Task Force special agent David Knight, states that he has learned the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Police Department have “technological devices” that can extract material from locked iPhones. As Forbes points out, this could be a reference to the services of Grayshift or Cellebrite.

Steven Nolder, Michalski’s lawyer, told Forbes the federal agents hoped to use Cellebrite to pull information from his client’s phone.

[Forbes]

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